Empathy has been on my mind for quite a few years now, and as more and more tragedy surfaces throughout the world, the idea of empathy only weighs heavier and heavier on my mind. The world needs more empathy, desperately. More empathy equals less hatred. Less hatred equals more love. More love equals less war. It seems like such a simple concept to me, and yet so far out of reach. So how do we increase empathy in the world? I believe it starts with the individual, and for those of us who have children, that change within the individual impresses upon them as well.
As I sit here going through some pictures from my recent trip back to Thailand and seeing the faces of all my friends who came from all over the world to train at Phuket Top Team as well, the solution to increasing empathy in our communities on a worldwide level seems to be right in front of my face. Travel. Travel to as many places as you can and do so in such a way that you can experience the culture, instead of only seeing the side of the country that was specifically designed and altered to attract tourism.
My experiences training at Phuket Top Team have been invaluable in exposing me to a variety of cultures because of how many different people come from all over the world to train there. On any given day numerous cultures are represented on the training floor. At every team gathering, a myriad of culture is brought to the occasion. Over the course of my travels I have made wonderful friends with people not just from Thailand, but from Australia, Scotland, England, Singapore, Sweden, Canada, Ireland and more, and what I love about that is the amount of culture I have been exposed to as a result while simply speaking and laughing with them. Even something as simple as differences in slang serve as a reminder of empathy, for one definition of empathy is the capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within the other being's frame of reference.
I remember sitting around with some friends after training one night on my first trip to Thailand, and the Australians were talking about their excessive use of a certain four letter word that Americans simply do not use (hint hint.. it begins with a "c" and most American women would tear your head off for referring to them as such). They were laughing at my reaction every time they used the word (apparently my eyes involuntarily widened a little bit with each use). I explained how taboo and insulting that word is in America, and they went on to explain that while there is a certain use of the word that is the highest insult in Australia as well, there are also two other uses of the word that are instead the highest compliment. I know this might sound strange to link a mini-lesson on the various uses of this particular word with empathy, but it was interesting to witness my shock over the word compared to their ease, as it was caused by a simple difference in paradigms.
Even by simply acknowledging the existence of differing paradigms throughout the world, even within our own neighborhoods, we are practicing and increasing empathy. Now, imagine traveling somewhere and witnessing the way families interact, how children are raised, how diets differ or even how meal time rituals differ. When you immerse yourself in the culture of a place and pay attention to the little details throughout the day, your eyes are opened to an entire different way of living and experiencing the world around you in such a way you might never have thought of for the simple reason that it was outside your paradigm.
I remember sitting down to lunch with my friend on my most recent trip. He is Thai so I began having him order my food for me when we went out, not because I'm one of those women who can't make decisions for herself, but because I wanted to experience the country, including the food, through a Thai's eyes. I knew if I ordered for myself, I would naturally gravitate toward what looked familiar. So we were each sitting there eating our matching dishes, which included shrimp, and I watched him spoon the shrimp up and place the whole thing in his mouth -- including the tail! He smiled at me and nodded at my spoon which also had a shrimp waiting on it. "You try." He said. I looked at the shrimp and realized my hesitation wasn't because it sounded gross or anything, but simply because I never knew you could even eat the tail! It was completely outside of my paradigm! So, I shrugged my shoulders, opened my mouth and ate the entire shrimp, tail and all, and while I had to chew it a little longer than I am used to, I haven't removed the tail from shrimp before eating them since.
I know these are small and possibly silly sounding things to stick out in my mind when considering empathy, but they really did have a big impact on me in terms of opening my eyes and making me reflect on how much of the world we view through the closed in tunnel of our paradigms. I've always wanted to travel with my children, but that desire is even stronger now that I have begun having these reflections. My youngest son and I will be going to Thailand together next summer and it is all we can talk about lately. He is fascinated by the stories I bring home, including the small stories about eating the tail off the shrimp. Hearing about how other people do things excites and fascinates him and watching that fascination in his eyes causes me to reflect on empathy and the relevance of travel in connection to empathy even more. It is not always easy to travel, but in my experience traveling to certain countries (such as Thailand) is cheaper than an extended weekend vacation in most U.S. cities. It takes some planning, sure, but it can absolutely be done. Just imagine the gift you'll be giving yourself, your children (if you have them), and as a result the world if you begin insisting on seeing more of this beautiful, culture rich world we live in.
This is a common saying heard in the inspirational/motivational industry. I have been guilty of saying it myself as well; recently, in fact. However, the truth is, we need our fear. Fear keeps us safe. Not safe in the sense that we stay comfortable and stagnant, although that is a risk of indulging too much in irrational fear, but safe in the literal sense of the word. Fear is what tells us yeah, jumping off that cliff might not actually be a good idea, or something about that person makes me uncomfortable, maybe I shouldn't go with him into that dark alley like he wants. So in that sense, being fearless would be reckless and dumb. In the unfortunate situation where we cannot avoid the danger, fear is what primes us to be able to fight if necessary, so again, being fearless would actually put us in danger.
I've been thinking a lot about the idea of being fearless this week. There was a pretty big fight offer in the works (alas it did not work out though) and a word that was in my mind as I thought about the potential fight was "fearless". However, the more I thought about this, the more I realized I'm not fearless, I'm just in control of my fear. I know how to decipher when fear is doing its job responsibly, and when it's just being an overprotective, nagging inner-mother. I'm definitely not fearless; I've just chosen to rule my fear instead of being ruled by it.
Fear tends to be an emotion faced by many in any entrepreneurial venture. It's that voice that whispers I don't know, maybe we shouldn't head off on our own; it feels awfully nice to be able to depend on this bi-weekly paycheck. Fear, I believe, is the main culprit when people choose not to pursue their dreams. Turning dreams into reality can be scary as hell! It takes an unbelievable amount of faith and self-confidence, but it also requires we become the king or queen of our own fear.
Any good ruler earns the respect of their people by proving they are capable of protecting them and their best interests. Irrational fear comes into play when our subconscious does not believe in our ability to make sound decisions for ourselves. Irrational fear tells us that paycheck is nice because it doesn't believe we are capable of creating that income on our own without the foundation of our employer. Committing ourselves to the repetitive actions that will prove otherwise will earn the trust of that fear we are trying to rule.
A good king or queen is wise and decisive. He or she gathers information through formal education and from trusted advisors. We have to show fear that we are making informed decisions before acting, and when we do so, fear will not feel so alarmed. If we do not make uneducated decisions, fear will not feel it is necessary to hover over every decision we make on the path toward achieving our goals.
A good ruler enforces law and order justly. When fear is doing its job appropriately we have to honor it and thank it for a job well done. However, when fear is being irrational, we have to enforce law and order by putting it in its place.
We have to rule our fear, or be ruled by it. The choice is always ours. I always ask the question: What's YOUR Possible? The question serves as a reminder that the only person that can dictate what is possible and impossible in your life is YOU. No one else can tell you something is impossible, so make sure you don't allow your irrational fear to tell you it is impossible either. Once upon a time electricity was impossible, as was space travel. All things are impossible until proven otherwise.
For better or for worse, I have always been a creature of habit. Sometimes it has helped me to succeed in my pursuits, and other times it has held me back in my pursuits... and yet I've always worn it proudly. I believed that somehow it was part of what made me who I am. However, despite how useful developing a habit can be at times, we cannot transform and evolve in this lifetime without stepping outside of the box and breaking routine.
Over the years of my fight career I have noticed an unintended theme in my fight outfits and logo. They all have wings and the most common color scheme is red and black, the colors of smoke and fire. The original wing concept came from a team nickname with my original training partners Michelle Blalock and Shannon Sinn. In a media day photo shoot the three of us stood in the Charlie's Angels pose joking around and were then tagged as the Sambo Angels for a while.
Later the Russian double headed eagle made an appearance on my fight clothes as a sort of crest to represent the Sambo gym I was training at and to tie in the Sambo Angels theme as well.
The wings continued to appear in some fashion or another in almost everything I had designed, including the eventual development of my logo.
Upon noticing the theme sometime last year, it dawned on me that I have always been drawn to the Phoenix, as well as to butterflies and the stars because of the way they all represent not only transformation, but the rise from what appeared to be life's greatest defeat: death. A star is born from the collapse of a gaseous nebula. A butterfly must first go into darkness and shed its old self before it can fly. And the strong and beautiful Phoenix rises from the ashes of its own death. Through the development of my What's YOUR Possible message, the wings of the Phoenix were always present encouraging others to never give up on their dreams, even in the face of apparent defeat.
As I reflect on my time here in Thailand and my upcoming return to the ring tonight, I have been thinking about habits and transformation. While I didn't know what shape it would take, this trip from the very beginning was about transforming and rising above the things that I was allowing to anchor me in the past, and in order to transform we must break the habits that keep us rooted in place. This fight couldn't be a better expression of breaking old habits. My entire preparation for this fight has been different from my old routine. I'm training differently. I'm fighting at a different weight. I don't know who my opponent it. There was no big announcement or media attention distracting me from just focusing on my training. Since I didn't do an obnoxious weight cut I have been able to train hard and eat appropriately right up until the fight. When I arrive at the stadium tonight, there will be no warm up (in Thailand the fighters just receive a massage with thai oil in place of a warm up); there will be no walk out song; I won't have my parents, my kids, or any of my friends and family back home that I am accustomed to being at my fights there to cheer me on. No one here knows Baby Face. In fact, on the fight poster my name is "Maria". I am just a girl, shedding her old habits and her old self to rise and try again.. and I am in love with it all.
Sometimes we find ourselves sitting around in the ashes of our destruction because of circumstances outside of our control, but other times it is because the habits we clung to were not serving our goals. While failure can feel a bit harsh, sometimes it is only after complete destruction that we can look back and realize we had fallen off our path and were no longer taking the appropriate actions to live as our true selves and so, the mask we had begun wearing instead had to be burned way so we could begin again. At some point in our lives we all find ourselves sitting in the ashes. When that day comes for you, I urge you to not give up, but instead look around and with the honesty that comes in silent reflection, decide if you have been clinging to old habits that are no longer serving you and cut the strings to those anchors so you can spread your wings and rise again.
Thank you to everyone who has helped me over the last nine months leading up to this point. My coaches at Easton Training Center and House of Pain for seeing where I was at mentally and stepping back to allow me the space I needed to heal, my good friend and teammate Terrence Moore for giving me the little timely shoves I needed to make this trip happen, my family at Easton Martial Arts Academy both co-workers and students alike for supporting my trip, my sponsor NuCalm for the help managing my anxiety and the stresses of jet lag, my kids for always believing in me, my parents for always supporting my dreams, and Phuket Top Team for providing me the space to open my wings again. A special thank you to Kru Athit Praditphon for your patience and willingness to teach me your style, to Krus Pariwat Wisripat and Yai Chanai for your extra help on the training floor, and to all my teammates who have pushed me through countless rounds of sparring to knock off all this rust.
I believe if you love something, you make an effort to learn all you can about it, so with immense baby steps I've been learning to speak Thai. I asked my friend earlier this morning how to say "please", and with a slight hesitation he replied, "Kruna.. but we don't use that word. You say ka or khob khun ka to be polite." Khob khun ka (or khob khun krup for men), means "thank you", but since we differentiate between "please" and "thank you" in English, I thought the same would be the case in all languages. I asked him why they had a word (kruna) if they didn't use it, and he just smiled and shrugged his shoulders.
Later as I sat drinking my coffee, I was looking through some pictures my friend had taken from the muay thai class at Phuket Top Team last night, and I immediately began picking apart my technique in every photograph. As I've mentioned before, I'm a perfectionist to a flaw. It is very difficult for me to approve of almost anything I do. I want to do everything perfectly. I want to train perfectly. I want to spar perfectly. I want to fight perfectly. I even want to rest and recover perfectly.
I think it stems from being adopted and spending my whole life wanting to show my appreciation to my parents for adopting me by being perfect for them always. I wanted them to know in my every action as a growing human that they did well by me, and I appreciated how they were raising me. I followed the rules out of appreciation. I worked hard in school and graduated when I was 16 out of appreciation. I opened my own business out of appreciation. I tried to be perfect in all I did out of appreciation. I don't know where I picked up this idea of being perfect, because my parents never encouraged perfectionism. My parents encouraged me to try and fail over and over and over again until I succeeded in my dreams. In fact, one day I went to my parents' house seeking advice from my father when I was struggling with fear over the amount of risk that is involved in self-employment, and he pointed at the ceiling where my room had been located my entire life and still sat unchanged and unoccupied. "You will always have a room here, Maureen." He said. "Your children will always have a room here. You will always have clothes on your backs, a roof over your heads, and food in your bellies. If you risk everything and lose it all, you can always come back here. There will always be a place for you here. Now go take risks because you have nothing to fear." What a blessing being adopted turned out to be...
Perfectionism... what a childish notion. Perfect doesn't exist. It's a word we have... but not one we use. "Perfect", perhaps, should be our kruna. Just a word that isn't used. The beauty of life is the plethora of experiences it offers, meaning there is no perfect. The beauty of martial arts is the plethora of techniques available, meaning once more that there is no perfect. Even a black belt doesn't reach perfectionism, where he knows all there is to know and trains it perfectly every day. It simply does not exist. Nothing and no one is perfect, so why do we even have the word in our language?
The more I reflect on perfectionism, the more I realize what a boring existence it would be anyhow. There would be nothing to learn, nothing to grow from, nothing to make life more thrilling. To do things perfectly always would drain life of much of its richness: the highs that are made possible only by the lows; the celebrations we are able to partake in only because of the failures we have also experienced. There is no perfect, and THAT is what makes life an adventure every day.
It is my intention from this day forward to continue pursuing my best self, but while also eliminating the idea of "perfect" and enjoying the imperfections of every day a little bit more. After all... the truth is each and every one of us is perfectly imperfect and that is what feeds the beautiful diversity our world is filled with. <3
Every fighter has experienced it.. that moment where your bread and butter move is changed and then your entire fighting paradigm seems to have been changed as well. You question yourself, and maybe you even question your previous training. Every time I have worked with a new coach I have always felt like I was starting over at square one.
One of the most frustrating techniques for me throughout my entire fight career has been the round kick, which is also one of the most basic fundamental techniques there is. So why the struggle? I am pretty sure for every single coach I have ever worked with, I have been shown a completely different "round kick", which frustrated my Type-A personality to no end. Being a "nerdy academic" my entire life, I have grown quite used to the learned step-by-step way of doing things. 2+2=4 no matter how many times you work the equation. The answer never changes, and the method for solving the equation is always the same. This has been the brain I have wrestled with on the training floor for years. Every time I was shown a new round kick I would question myself and wonder whether my previous training had been wrong or if "this" particular round kick was just a different round kick... It was all very confusing for a time.
During my time here in Thailand training at Phuket Top Team I have worked primarily with Kru Athit Praditphon who has a style that works really well for me. So much of what he has taught me has really sunken in and filled in the gaps of confusion I've had on when to use certain techniques, which has led to countless "a-ha moments" while learning from him. However, almost everything he has taught me, or has corrected in my technique, he has prefaced with "I am not telling you what you do is wrong; I am showing you MY style."
Combat sports is a stylistic art and for every coach you work with you are likely going to learn what works best for them. I tell my own students this all the time. The techniques I show are those that have worked well for me in my career. While I know how to teach other techniques, I don't like to show something if it hasn't worked out well for me in the past because I haven't developed an emotional buy-in for the technique. For instance, I much prefer round knees compared to straight knees. Perhaps this is because I landed numerous round knees to the body and head in my first professional fight for Glory Kickboxing, while I have found little success with the straight knee as of yet. So while I teach both, many of the combinations I show that include knees tend to involve the round knee because I have been "emotionally rewarded" for that one more often. However, I don't think this concept of style rather than an idea of right or wrong is always clarified to students, which I intend to make an effort to begin doing more often.
As the days have gone on I have continued to work primarily with Kru Praditphon, but a few of the other Krus have begun to step in and add their input to my training as well. It was after my first pad session with Kru Pariwat Wisripat that the entire concept of style really hit home in a whole new light. Everything I worked with him was completely different than what I had been working on with Kru Praditphon. In fact, the first few rounds made me feel like I had never done pad work before, something I have always felt frustration over when working with a new coach. What was really exciting for me though was being able to see for the first time how BOTH styles applied. I wasn't battling right over wrong technique in my mind. Instead I was adding to my tool box. Everything I had learned from Kru Praditphon was still in the forefront of my mind, but I was picking up new little tricks from Kru Wisripat's style as well.
Perhaps the problem in the past has been that I tended to only work with one coach, and this was one of the first times I had worked with two people at the same time and got to really experience the difference in styles in the present time rather than comparing past and present learning. Instead of being a good student and adding to my toolbox, I was getting stuck in the paradigm of right and wrong techniques. Such a mentality was only ever going to stunt my growth and plateau my career as a fighter. My time here at Phuket Top Team has taught me I have much to learn about not only teaching, but learning as well. I think learning how to be a good student is just as important as learning to be a good coach, and perhaps the only way to become a good coach is by learning to become a good student first.
"In Muay Thai, nothing is wrong. We do whatever we want. That is the Thai way. Sometimes we punch. Sometimes we kick. And sometimes we kick, but we kick this way instead of that way. There is no wrong in Muay Thai; there are just different styles. This is my style." ~Kru Athit Praditphon
Thank you to each and every one of the Krus at Phuket Top Team that has contributed to my learning as a fighter, as a student, and as someone who wishes to pass on this knowledge to others. Your impact on me has been a permanent one. <3
"Try to play."
"Try to play."
"Try to play."
These are the most commonly repeated words I have heard in training during my time here in Thailand at Phuket Top Team. "You're too serious." My kru, Athit Praditphon said to me last night while practicing clinch. "You must learn to play more." Of course, he is absolutely right, and this is not something I haven't heard before, but this advice has never quite sunken in as brilliantly as it has here while learning from him.
Thailand is known as the "Land of Smiles", and if you do your research you'll find varying reasons why, but in direct relation to how I see all the Thais acting in the gym... They are always smiling and playing, even when they're working hard. I feel like there is a lot to learn in this. When trying to correct something, we often sway from one extreme to the other. We hear Get to work! and we immediately stop playing and get serious; we hear Loosen up! and we stop working hard and start playing around. Watching the Thais train and work has shown me the reality that there is a sweet spot, so to say, in the middle somewhere. It is possible to both play AND work hard simultaneously.
When Kru Praditphon said these words to me last night it was because in an effort to try a newly learned sweep, I tensed up, forgot EVERYTHING else I knew about clinch work, waited stiffly for my opportunity to execute the sweep, and... got swept myself, over and over and over and over again in varying fashions. I kept asking what I was doing wrong and without realizing it, was essentially asking for a break down of every sweep I was caught in which, of course, was ABSURD in a group setting. As a coach myself, I know this all too well. When I am teaching a large group class and a student wants a step-by-step breakdown of something outside of what we're working on it can be frustrating, not because I don't appreciate their hunger for knowledge, but because there simply isn't enough time to work with every student individually like that, and to do so with one student would be unfair to the rest. That is what private lessons are for. And yet there I was, letting my perfectionist brain get the best of me and instead of watching, feeling and learning as I was swept, I wanted to receive the "quick fix breakdown".
"The Thai way is not to teach everything." Kru Praditphon said. "The Thai way is to learn some things from instruction and to learn other things from watching, feeling and trying. That is the Thai way. I know you know this, because you have children."
Light bulb! We don't teach our children everything. The majority of what they learn is from watching the world around them and then putting what they see into trial and error. Children learn from example and from practicing those examples, sometimes successfully and sometimes failing. Every fighter has heard some version of the saying We bleed in the gym so we don't bleed in the fight. Learning something, TRULY learning it, often means "losing" at it a thousand times first. While instruction is an important element of learning, it is not the only method, and requiring it to be so is like asking for the shortcut to your success. Relaxing, embracing the fact that repeated failures make us better, and just settling in to play and practice what we learn are what really facilitate mastery of any art. Only by getting caught in a technique do you truly understand the technique from both sides. If you only know how to execute the technique in principal you are less likely to fully understand it; you have to know how it feels.
While I am madly taking notes after every training session both for personal growth and to remember some specific drills I want to bring home to my students, if there is one thing that I am promising myself to take away from this trip it is those words I have heard so many times from Kru Praditphon. "Try to play." Not just in practice, but in the competition, in life, in my friendships, in my work... How much could we all benefit by learning to play a little more?
Much love from the Land of Smiles! Xo
From the moment I stepped foot on the plane leaving Denver, I wondered apprehensively when the debilitating anxiety would kick in. I was fully prepared to deal with many days of being stuck in bed as I worked through the messiness that had become my soul. However, as the days passed with only mild levels of anxiety at best, I began to wonder not when, but IF the anxiety would kick in. Perhaps it was nothing more than an unwarranted fear I had built up in my own mind. Finally, after allowing the experience of my first day in Bangkok to sit with me for a few days, I thought perhaps I had received the epiphany that had cured my anxiety and set free my demons once and for all.
But... it doesn't appear to be that simple. Epiphanies are great, but it's the epiphany in practice that really brings forth the healing. While I came to realize I couldn't identify as both a victim and a victor, that didn't erase the memories that are still there, and which still bring with them a sense of panic and urgency at times even though they no longer hold a place in the present. I'm not sure what finally sparked the fuse, but something opened the cage a few days ago and the most painful of the memories returned. Panic won and instead of going to practice as planned, I curled up in a ball under the covers like a child and spent the rest of the evening just reminding myself the sense of urgency was unwarranted and that was all I accomplished that evening.
The very healing realization that we are constantly given a choice to be either the victim or the victor was only the first step in the healing process. The second step is apparently mastering the war of deciphering past from present. Anxiety over past experiences is a funny thing. It's the mind remembering events in the past and signaling the release of hormones to induce a state of urgency in the present, a state of urgency that is completely unnecessary and seemingly impossible to honor since the task to complete is one set in the past.
I share this because I know many people struggle with anxiety and memories from their past that just won't seem to stop haunting them, and I would like to bear witness to the struggle. Wrestling with anxiety can be a tough battle and there is no quick fix to the battle strategy. While sometimes I use martial arts to literally wrestle with my past, and other times I use writing as a way to facilitate the flow of my thoughts regarding the past, there are time as well where curling up in a ball and just letting the memories wash over me is the best I can do. And that's okay. That is more than okay. A helpful quote I found in a book titled Soul Shifts by Dr. Barbara DeAngelis is "I will see what there is to see, feel what there is to feel, and know what there is to know." To me this meant remaining open to identifying life lessons as they are presented to us and then putting them into practice as we go, but practice is the key concept. There are no quick fixes... just a lot of opportunities to practice.
So for those of you coping strategically, and for those coping in a ball under the covers... You're doing just fine. Much love. Xo
"We cannot simultaneously hold up the banners for both victim and victor. We must choose which one we will be." ~Unknown
A couple days before departing for Thailand I was getting a pedicure and could hear a talk show on the television in the back room. I'm not sure which talk show it was or who the guest was, by I heard her say the quote I placed above, and it really hit home for me. Her words sat with me for several days; in fact, they're obviously still resonating today. What a fantastic way of phrasing the glass is either half empty or half full and applying that well-known phrase to the struggles of our own lives. We cannot be both the victim and the victor. We must choose. Profound!
Why am I writing about this now? I sat down this morning to write about my first day in Bangkok, which by the way felt nothing short of magical. I set out to go see one of the temples I had heard a lot about and was stopped by a tuk-tuk driver who told me that today was the day of prayer in Bangkok and all taxis and tuk-tuks charged half price to take people to the temples, something the government rewarded them to do he explained. All I thought was oh what luck! as I enjoyed an almost two hour tour around several of the temples in which I paid only $2 USD for. I was also taken to the Thai Gem Export building because it was the final day of the special sale that happened only once per year where gems were sold at wholesale without the 195% retail mark up, or so I was told by my tuk-tuk driver and a fellow "chance" foreigner from Singapore whom I met at one of the temples. I was encouraged by both men to purchase a complete jewelry set (as it was explained that I would only be allowed to buy three pieces so I could return through customs without looking like I was exporting gems to my country), and then return to the states to sell them to the jewelers for a substantial profit. I enjoyed looking at the beautiful pieces of jewelry (what female wouldn't), but didn't make any purchases as that was not what this trip was about for me. I'm not here to profit. I'm here to heal and find myself again.
My final stop in my tuk-tuk tour was at the canals where I could hire a boat to take me on a ride through the canals to the final temple. My driver told me he would negotiate the price of my ticket for me so I was paying the thai price and not the tourist price which seemed awfully nice of him. Thinking nothing of the price I was subsequently charged, I jumped in the boat and enjoyed the peacefulness of the ride thinking how cleansing nature's gifts of wind and water are as they both rushed by. By the end of the day I felt almost as if I had been witnessed by the universe, as if whatever being watching over us sent a message ahead of me saying hey guys, this girl is on a mission to heal; be kind to her and help facilitate that healing for her however you can. The entire day felt magical walking through the temples and standing in the same place hundreds of thousands had stood before me in worship.
As I sat down to write about all of this I looked up the name of one of the temples I was taken to, which I only knew as the Lucky Buddha, because I wanted to call it by its Thai name. To my surprise, I discovered tons of articles about the Lucky Buddha scam describing basically my entire day including the half priced tuk-tuk ride, the gem export building, and even the chance foreigner from Singapore that I met. Since I didn't play into the scam and buy anything, the final attempt to get money from me was the ride through the canals where I read I was severely overcharged for the trip.
Reading about this stopped me in my tracks, and I didn't know how to feel about it. Suddenly I realized my confusion came from the fact that despite reading that I was involved in a scam attempt, and knowing my past self would have been saddened or angered by the knowledge, that wasn't at all how I felt and none of the magic of the day had been taken away from me from in the slightest. That scam attempt was the best first day in Thailand I could have imagined, especially for this trip in particular.
Even better, I was given a very enlightening reminder that we cannot be both the victim and the victor. We must choose. The saying that the glass is either half-empty or half-full is so much more than simply choosing an optimistic or pessimistic viewpoint. It's about choosing to be the victim or victor and not allowing life's circumstances to take anything away from the innate magic and beauty that is life itself. Due to the unfortunate turn of events of my last trip here, I left feeling like I was a victim in need of healing. I struggled the following nine months with post-traumatic stress that affected everything including my sleep, my health, my friendships, and my career. However, in reality, while that was a very traumatic and stressful event, I accomplished some amazing things while learning some priceless lessons about parts of myself I had never met before. I saved a man's life by choosing love over hate, something I have yet to explain fully, and that is an extremely powerful lesson.
I returned to Thailand to heal and in the very first day of my trip I was provided the exact lesson I needed to do so. A gift wrapped in a scam attempt. I could have chosen to hold up the banner for victim and allow my entire experience to be ruined, but instead I remained in the victor stance knowing that the scam attempt didn't change my emotional experiences throughout the day. Standing in the places of worship surrounded by healing energy, riding on a boat with the wind in my face and the water rushing past, and the pleasant conversations I had with my driver and the chance foreigner outside of the scam attempt were all still very real and very pleasant experiences. I don't need to heal, I just need to polish my memories a bit and remember the identity of victim or victor is nothing more than a choice.
The topic on my mind lately has been the pursuit of goals, and no wonder since I have been thinking a lot lately about my own goals in the sport and whether or not I will be able to come out of retirement and return to what I love (read more about that here). Regardless of whether you are chasing athletic goals, weight loss goals, career goals, or goals of another sort, many of the keys to success are the same.
In Part I of Staying the Course, I discussed the value of community. While being a one man show is often possible in many scenarios, surrounding yourself with a community that supports and enhances your journey will only increase your odds of success and enrich your life.
Part II of Staying the Course focused on finding the right mentor to gain the knowledge necessary to achieve your goals. No goal is possible without the proper knowledge, and it is important to embrace the fact that not all sources of information were created equal. Whether you gain the knowledge you seek through books, instructors or mentors, make sure the teaching style is appropriate for your learning style and know the credentials of the person you turn to for that knowledge.
Part III and IV switched to a more fitness related focus on goals. I explained the dangers of becoming too attached to the scale, focusing on health factors instead of aesthetics, and practicing patience by adopting maintainable lifestyle changes instead of playing into the yo-yo fad diets that have become popular in today's society. However, while I discussed the scale and maintainable lifestyle changes in regards to diet and fitness, the same concept should be kept in mind for any goal. You have to become an expert at practicing patience. Yes, work hard, but cut yourself some slack if your success doesn't manifest overnight, and stop measuring your progress or comparing your success to the success of others every day. All good things take time. Patience. Patience. Patience my friends.
And finally, I would like to close out this series of articles with the best advice I can give on the subject of chasing your dreams. Embrace the journey... ALL of it. No matter what type of goal you are chasing, you are going to have extreme highs and extreme lows in the journey, and it's important (and valuable) to embrace both "altitudes". Nothing outside of my career in combat sports has better shown me that it's in the middle of life's struggles where we learn the most beneficial lessons. When I win, oh man does that feel good (SWOON), but while I try to remember that no fight, even a fight well won, was fought perfectly and there is always room for improvement, it is very difficult to see the flaws in your performance while your hand is raised in the air. On the other hand, when yours isn't the hand raised, it is much easier to see where you need to improve and thus continue moving forward toward your goals with an educated plan.
In the case of athletics, if my head is too high in the clouds after a win I have my coaching staff there to ground me and, despite walking away with the win, seeing where I need to improve for the next fight. However, not all "goal-chasers" have those people to guide them, so it's important to remember in your journey that when things are going really well enjoy that, but don't ever forget to look for where you can improve as well, and when things are getting tough and not going the way you want, learn from the lessons you are being shown. An important point to make as well is just as you can improve despite winning, there are still things you did perfectly despite losing.
You may experience some major setbacks as well. In fact, I can pretty much guarantee it. In my case, the setbacks came in the form of injuries, but in hindsight I can see those injuries were actually blessings in disguise. They helped guide me in my self-improvements. When I broke my hand in October of 2012, I wasn't much of a kicker in my fights. I was more of a grappler at the time so my interest was in getting on the inside so I could take it to the ground so I tended to "box" my way in. Muay Thai is known as the art of eight limbs though, so when I broke my hand I took that as an opportunity to improve my kicks. In fact, there is a video of me working my kicks on the bag right after breaking my hand with my arm in a sling and me doped up on pain killers to take the vibration the kicks were sending up through my body. Now, I'll admit a GREAT deal of stubbornness and unhelpful anger is being shown here. Really what I'm doing here is throwing an adult version of a three year old temper tantrum. I lost my fight because of breaking my hand in the first 15-30 seconds and I was pissed about it, so I had NO patience to wait on improving. However, it serves as a great visual that while my hand was useless that did not mean I couldn't work on improving elsewhere.
By the time my hand was healed and I was released to start training again in January of 2013, I was a much more confident kicker. In fact, I had become so comfortable with setting up my kicks off my jab that I essentially quit using my hands in sparring. Plus, I'll admit after breaking my right hand I was a bit gun shy to use it. So another gift in the form of a setback was provided me just a month and a half after returning to training when I tore my LCL and hamstring when a training session turned south in February of 2013. That was a devastating setback as it took me out of training for a full year. I was allowed to do very little stationary training (upper body lifting and light mitt work as long as there was absolutely no pivoting of my lead foot), but refusing to accept a year hiatus, I trained what I could and was forced to find my comfort zone once more in boxing.
While at the time I thought those two setbacks were going to be the end of my career, they made the time and space I needed to focus on improving as a fighter so I could enter into my professional career. When I was released to begin training again in March of 2014, I was immediately offered my professional debuts in both kickboxing (with Glory World Series in May 2014) and MMA (with Resurrection Fighting Alliance in July 2014).
It took a while for me to really embrace that all things happen for a reason and if we can find the gift within the setbacks we'll both enjoy and grow from the journey that much more. Since then my journey has been fraught with many more perils and setbacks, but I have learned to embrace the lows with the highs. Doing any less will detract you from your goals, or worse simply drive you crazy. I know this is not unique to my journey, which is why I chose to close out this series of articles with this gentle reminder: All journeys are a roller coaster, and remember at some point in our lives most of us liked roller coasters.
The end of 2015 came cloaked in catastrophe and found me rushing home from Thailand with my then boyfriend after spending seven weeks by his side in a government hospital following a scooter accident that led to a series of surgeries for him. If you were following him or me at that time you would have been hard pressed not to have seen the articles that surfaced while we were there as our story went viral.
The first of the year is often a time of reflection for us all, but never had a New Year's Eve felt more profound to me. We were released from the hospital on December 30th, but were not able to fly home until January 3rd, and as I lay in our bed on New Year's Eve listening to the hundreds of fireworks erupting through the streets to herald in the new year and watching the colorful lights splash against the walls of our dark room, I felt angry and frustrated by the celebrations, which wasn't at all my typical personality. New Year's Eve has always felt magical and full of promise to me. However, I realized I was listening for my boyfriend's breathing, something I had become accustomed to doing while in the hospital because there were several periods where we weren't sure he was going to survive the trip, and the sounds of celebrating in the streets were preventing me from being able to hear those breaths.
It was at that same moment that I realized I hadn't truly slept or lived outside of fight-or-flight mode since the accident on November 17th. Before that trip I had never been away from my children for more than one week and while I was supposed to have returned home by Thanksgiving, it had been twelve weeks since I had seen my boys. The intensity of homesickness that washed over me for my children and the weight of the stress from the last seven weeks suddenly became too much and I found a rage washing over me like I had never experienced before. As silly as it sounds looking back on it so many months later, I was furious at my boyfriend for needing to be resuscitated on my watch; I was furious at Thailand for being the place where the accident happened; I was furious at my fight career for leading to the trip in the first place; I was furious at anything and everything that led to that moment and I erupted in tears that kept me awake the rest of the night thinking about how much I missed my children.
After reflecting on the amount of time my career had taken from my children, the following day I announced my retirement from combat sports. I had never really discussed the impact my career had on our family with my kids, but I assumed they must feel the same way I did and would prefer to have a more "normal" family schedule. I was sure I was making a calm and educated decision and figured if it was an emotionally charged decision based on the situation I found myself in I would experience some level of anxiety once I made my announcement. However, announcing my retirement on social media brought nothing but a soothing sensation to my heart, reducing the amount of anxiety I was in as I waited to return home to my kids.
It was a few months after I returned home that my kids asked me when I would be fighting again and I told them about my retirement, thinking they would feel relief at knowing I wouldn't be away from them anymore. Their response, however, came as a shock. My youngest son said, "But I don't want a normal mom." It turned out my kids enjoyed what I did for a living; they enjoyed witnessing the journey; they enjoyed that while the schedule often had me busy training in the evening it always allowed me to take them to school, pick them up from school, and even on the latest of nights be home in time to tuck them in before bed. When I asked my son what a "normal mom" was he explained that all his friends who had normal moms with normal jobs spent all their time before and after school in daycare and those moms rarely made it to field trips or school activities. They both agreed that while they missed me when I was gone, they much preferred my occasional trips away over the choice of never seeing me if I were working in a different industry that had me home all the time anyhow. They also reminded me that we all train in the martial arts together, so while we might not be sitting around the table playing a board game together, we were almost always all together at the same place, just on different mats.
By the time we had this conversation, the itch to compete again had already returned. I am a naturally competitive person and while I was dealing with a lot of psychological/emotional trauma from the trip that was affecting my ability to train consistently, I was missing the martial arts, my team, the larger community I was a part of, and the thrill of competition. I was already suspecting I wasn't quite done, but after that conversation with my kids a heavy weight seemed to slide off my shoulders. I realized I felt guilty about wanting to return to training full time, but hearing them say they preferred the life we had been living was like receiving permission to keep following my path. My career has always been "so much more than face-punching", or so I explained it for a few years. The deeper purpose of my journey from the start was to face the huge challenges that life throws at us and walk out the other side of the storm whole, healthy, and hungry for more. I wanted to show my kids that it was possible and that the real depth of life was found in the lessons we learn in the middle of those storms, and I wanted to extend that message to as much of the world as possible, which fighting has allowed me to do. Fighting allowed me to not only live my "What's YOUR Possible?" message, but extend it to others who needed a bit of inspiration in their own journeys as well. Retirement wasn't allowing me to continue that aspect of my journey and I quickly began to feel unfulfilled.
Some of you may have seen an article that was released a couple weeks ago that suggested I am coming out of retirement. Am I? That has yet to be entirely clear. However, what I AM doing is returning to Thailand to deal with some unfinished business and resolve some emotional trauma I experienced during my last trip. I would like to think of Thailand and remember mostly good memories instead of the memories that have caused me nightmares every single night without fail since returning home on January 3rd. I would like to see my friends again, the friends I had to leave without telling goodbye as we rushed home on an emergency flight that didn't allow time to make our rounds before departing. I would like to see more of the island than I saw of the hospital, which at this point is not the case. I would also like to focus on resolving whatever health issues I've been having that I eluded to in previous articles that are affecting my ability to return to MMA, if that is what I eventually decide I want. When I was signed by Invicta Fighting Championships in 2014 it was on a four fight contract, which because of various circumstances only ended up being one fight. While I was in Thailand, I was offered a place on the King's Cup to fight in front of the King of Thailand on his birthday, one of the highest honors I can imagine receiving in the sport, but the accident prevented me from being able to accept that offer. There are a few offers in boxing I have had to turn down as well, and this has all left me feeling like I have a lot of unfinished business in the sport. If I am honest with myself, the only reasons I have not accepted one of the many fight offers I have received since coming home are the emotional resolution I need from Thailand, and my weight plateau as I can not safely compete in MMA at my current height and weight. If an opportunity to compete in Muay Thai arises while I am there though, I can guarantee I'll take it so yes, perhaps I am sort of coming out of retirement.
I have two of the greatest teams behind me and there is no reason I can't figure out how to make a safe and healthy return with the right medical staff behind me as well (which I have been slowly accumulating). Easton Training Center and Elevation Fight Team are here in Colorado with some of the best coaches and fighters in the business, and Phuket Top Team in Thailand remains my home away from home with an amazing coaching staff waiting for me. I will not make a final decision until I return home from Thailand, as I am well aware that settling the emotional unfinished business I have there may resolve more than I expect, but I have been listening to the sweet song the cage and ring have been singing to me for months now and I am itching to return to the sport. I do know for certain that I have so much more to give as long as I can resolve certain circumstances that are preventing me from giving it. I hope you'll continue to follow my journey. The count down to Thailand officially begins.
A lover of words, magic, and the idea of changing the world by encouraging the pursuit of one dream at a time. Living the dream myself as a professional boxer, kickboxer, and MMA fighter.